There are a lot of heated debates in the world of writing: online writing course or traditional university MFA? finding an agent and a publisher, or self-publishing? print or ebook? The list goes on.
But one of the funniest arguments to watch from the sidelines is when two writers argue the merits of NaNo. If you’re not familiar, NaNo is the nickname for National Novel Writing Month, a massive online event with over 300,000 registered participants so far for this year’s running in which writers around the globe set out to write a complete novel during the month of November.
Writers looking for a fun challenge will argue that it’s just a great way to discipline yourself into daily writing or that it’s really just about learning to force yourself to unlock the creativity trapped inside your head. Purists will argue back that it’s just a way to throw a lot of crap on paper. And they’re both absolutely right.
If you sign up for the challenge, you will be required to churn out an average of 1,667 words per day for thirty days. That’s not too overwhelming, but even the really cool NaNo website has jokes warning writers away from the nefarious ways to “pad your word count” like using lots of “verys” and getting rid of all contractions or hyphenated words.
The debate part of this is that some writers have been known to complete their NaNo novels on November 30th, engage in heavy drinking and celebrating on December 1st, then send that novel off to an agent or publisher on December 2nd. Oh, no. No no no no no no. Unacceptable.
While there have been some famous bestsellers that started life as NaNo novels, it is not acceptable to send your NaNo novel off to ANYONE without months of heavy editing., rounds of beta readings, and intense rewrites.
The purpose of NaNo is the challenge. It’s not about spitting out a book and trying to get it published. NaNo novels by definition should be pretty crappy. That’s part of the fun. It’s not about staying awake at night, struggling with the plot or the characters. It’s about getting it out of your head and onto paper. You can worry about how “good” it is later (as in, during those months and months of edits).
I have one NaNo novel that I spent the requisite months editing and is actually published. I have one other NaNo novel that I never looked at again, leaving it sitting on its flash drive in a drawer of my desk. I actually took it out for the first time THIS MONTH, and did discover that it isn’t completely worthy of the nearest trash can, but it is by no means something that should be queried or published yet. I’ve often wondered, in fact, if part of the reason so many agents are closed to queries in December and January is they are tired of the flood of NaNo novels in their inboxes.
So go right now and sign up for NaNo, but keep your focus in terms of why you are doing it. You are stretching yourself as a writer, you are acquiring the discipline to write every day, you are learning more about yourself as a writer. You are NOT publishing a book.